Cape's floodwall setting takes shape

Monday, September 25, 2006

The area surrounding the intersection of Water and Independence streets is a hub of activity.

Painting is underway on the Missouri Wall of Fame mural, which is on track for completion by Oct. 10. Construction also hums along on a $150,000 improvement to the municipal parking lot in front of the mural. And that doesn't even take into account the BNSF freight trains that go rumbling by several times daily.

"It's been pretty busy and there can be a lot of distractions," said Chicago-based artist Thomas Melvin. "Old friends and people from around the city come over and chat. Every so often the railroad comes through and shoos us off and then there's the temptations of Water Street, but we're keeping our noses to the grindstone."

Melvin says weather has mostly cooperated with the efforts of the three artists and their three assistants who are working on the project. Friday's rainout was only the third since work began in August.

The artists are painting using perforated outlines of the portraits called "pounce patterns." These giant paper sheets are laid over the wall and coated with charcoal. The resulting outlines can then be traced and filled in by artists.

Many have also noticed the monochromatic color schemes of the portraits. For example, Calamity Jane is painted in shades of blue and the James brothers in green. The designs mostly stick to three or four different values of the same color and white for most of the portraits.

Melvin said the colors were not selected to represent anything about the subjects, instead artists were concerned with the overall effect.

"Basically, that was a way of streamlining the design and creating visual effect. There's a contrast there when you keep the background neutral," he said. "We didn't make decisions as to who would get what color, we just wanted to stick to the alternations that might occur in a natural spectrum and the way you rotate through the colors that gives the effect."

Tim Blattner of the River Heritage Mural Association said he's pleased with the progress and enjoys using his lunch break to observe the artists.

But there's one aspect he wishes was further along. "We're still looking for additional sponsors," he said.

Sponsorship costs between $2,000 and $5,000. Blattner hopes sponsors will defray approximately half of the $85,000 to $95,000 mural project.

Sponsors names will be displayed individually on one of the 10 or 11 informational placards to be erected on the walkway sometime in early 2007. Blattner said the association is planning an advertising campaign to publicize sponsorship options.

Future visitors to the floodwall will also find parking more convenient and accessible, said city officials.

The improvements to the municipal parking lot in front of the mural were recommended by St. Louis consulting firm Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier in December 2005. The firm also recommended the changeover to two-way traffic on Main Street which took effect this spring.

The new lot will be bisected by an entrance onto Main Street. It will have a new entrance from Independence shifted to the east and island-style dividers clearly separating the lanes.

The improvements go hand in hand with the two-way conversion. Motorists will no longer have any reason to use Aquamsi Street and its intersection with the parking lot as a cut-through to get to Independence or Main Street from points south.

"That was never the intention for it to be used as a through-street and this will help end that use," said city engineer Jay Stencel.

The overhaul also includes new waste water management measures and the addition of red pavers along the sidewalk from Independence to the end of the mural improvements.

The facelift will reduce parking spaces from 180 to 115 spaces. The consultants believe the loss of spaces is rewarded by more orderly, safer experience for both drivers and pedestrians.

Their research showed that the municipal parking lot is less than half full at most times.

Work on the lot is scheduled for completion by mid-October.

335-6611, extension 245

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